Photo by Kate Mada.
The saxophone will never die, obviously, but it can be tough to find a role for the instrument in pop music other than "steal the show with a solo." Montreal experimental trio Saxsyndrum are seeking to change that with their new single "Up to You," a sharp, grooving song that departs from their typically intense, post-rock inspired performances both on and off the stage. While the song centres around AP Bergeron's catchy vocal hook, his part is used as a refrain (jazz folks would call it a "head") that bookends extended improv and solos from the rest of the group. Stream "Up to You" below and read on for our interview with Saxsyndrum on dub tapes and staying weird.
How do you guys find approaching a pop song, given your more experimental/instrumental background? What's hard, what's not hard about the process?
Pop is pretty simple on the surface, it's so clean you're not supposed to see the seams. Approaching it from our own experimental/instrumental angle, it was a test to keep things that tight. The song wrote itself, but the production process kept forcing us to ask "what's the focus" and how can we support that. Structurally, the pop form is so straightforward — just sections sequenced and layered in a pretty predictable fashion. The fun part is, you can fill in those sections with your weirdness, and deliver it all on a platter most people find appealing. The next album features so many song 'types' — interludes, soundscapes, dark jams, not to mention a few tight pop tunes, too. We're looking at the album as a whole, with "Up to You" punctuating the mix, like an exclamation mark.
What feeling or goal are you guys trying to achieve by making pop with an avant-garde slant like this?
By writing a pop song from a more experimental perspective, we wanted to upend what's expected of the genre by essentially subbing in our own weird elements for what's typically anticipated. At its core, the song is about the fate of a relationship being questioned and ultimately relinquished. The anthemic synths and boomy beat were written while in the throes of love, but the pained lyrics and harmony arose from the breakup. The song is at an emotional crux, on the precipice of loss and acceptance — which is a vulnerable place for a pop song to go.
What older music serves as an inspiration for this direction? Recent stuff, too.
For us, an important aspect of this release is the format; we're putting this single out on 7" vinyl, which we think is an under-appreciated and genuinely classic format. It's effectiveness comes from the two side, two song approach. In our minds, the most classic way to use the B-side is for a dub version, which we did, as well. Over the past couple years, 45s have been a major part of Dave's music discovery process. Because of the dated nature of the format, this has lead us to a lot of 80's synth pop, new wave and boogie. A couple of tunes stand out for us as an influence. Prince's "Kiss", with it slow and steady big beat under sensual vocals exemplifies where we tried to go with this song. Soft Cell's Tainted Love 45, with it's crazy "Tainted Dub" version on the B-side, was a big influence for us for the dub version. We've also been listening to more current, 80s inspired stuff, like Junior Boys and Jessy Lanza, both of which were heavily influencing us while working on "Up To You".
Finally, which classic sax jam do you hope "Up to You" joins the ranks of? Is this a "Careless Whisper" or even a Carly Rae Jepsen "Run Away with Me?"
Oh, these are both prime choices. You can't underestimate the power of a good sax line in a pop song. This holds nowadays with songs like Ariana Grande's "Problem" and M83's "Midnight City," but also with classics like Sade's "Smooth Operator," Hall and Oates' "I Can't Go for That," and David Bowie's "Young Americans." We'd love for "Up To You" to join this list.
Phil listens to Rihanna's classic jam "Sax with Me" often. He's on Twitter.